Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Thank You Notes Written in Crayon
I think I've received the most joy as a writer by giving many of my books and magazine stories away as gifts. No, I don't hand out books on the street corner, or give them to everyone I know. I've never ordered box after box of my picture books so I could sell them at conferences when I teach. I usually order several boxes just for me. That allows me to occasionally surprise a child with a book, give one to my plumber, or to my electrician to take home to their children, or give as a "thank you" to a friend. I love to delight a grandparent or teacher with a book and a few magazines for the children in their lives. It's always fun to wrap a picture book and give it along with a baby shower gift.
One day while sitting in my ophthalmologist's waiting room, one of the women who worked for the clinic called me to the window. She said her seven-year-old son shared the book I gave him, for "Show and Tell" day at school. He told the class it was his favorite book. Later he sent me a thank you note written in crayon, and a picture of his little Chihuahua named "Moosey." Are you smiling yet?
A year or so ago, I saw a photo of a little girl in Clubhouse Jr. She had a small collection of Clubhouse Jr. Magazines spread out in front of her as she smiled for the camera. The caption mentioned that she was displaying her collection and was excited about adding more. I immediately contacted the magazine editor and told her I wanted to send this little collector more magazines with my stories---beginning with my first that appeared in the November 1993 issue. I had several hundred magazines in files in my garage! Needless to say, the girl and her family were thrilled with the large envelope full of magazines. The thank you note from the little girl was sweet, and the mother emailed me about how much fun her daughter was having reading all of my stories.
I cherish thank you notes written in crayon, photos of smiling children with a pet, and comments from moms who mention how much their child loves my books and/or magazine stories.
So, I'll keep giving a book or two away for those "special" occasions until my stack says, "Stop! Keep the rest of us for the family." It will be kind of sad, but I'll never forget the joy of giving, and thank you notes written in crayon.
c December 2009 Sheryl Crawford
Monday, October 26, 2009
Make Every Word Count! by Marjorie Flathers
Marjorie Flathers is an accomplished author, and I'm proud to call her my friend. It is a delight to know Marjorie and a privilege to learn from her expertise as a writer!
This knowledgeable free-lance writer has been published for over 27 years! Marjorie's work has appeared in print well over 300 times in a variety of magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and anthologies for writers and knitters. This writing pro has a degree in English, and is a source of inspiration as well as knowledge about the world of publishing. She has graciously permitted me to present another helpful post for those of us who are just a bit too wordy! If you want to make every word count---pay close attention!
Years ago, when I was just beginning my writing career, I heard the advice, “Make Every Word Count.” I tried to put this tip into practice, with varying degrees of success. But, about 8 years ago, when I began writing short, short (300 words!) stories for the “Kids’ Reading Room” page of the Los Angeles Times, I knew it was truly time to make these words of wisdom work. In other words, this was when push came to shove!
At first, I didn’t think I could write a complete story (beginning, middle and end) with such a limited word length. I was already writing the longer (1500 words) 5-part serialized stories for that page. This was my specialty, I thought. But then the Kids’ Page editor called me and said she desperately needed stories for the Sunday page (where these shorter ones were featured) because “writers don’t want to tackle them.” Would I? Well, what could I say but “Yes!” And, I soon learned that the skills I was developing writing these stories would also apply to longer stories for children, for adults, and even for non-fiction.
Here, in brief, is how I approach what sometimes seems a daunting task.
To begin, I write a rough draft, not worrying about word length. I just get everything down that I want to say, remembering that any story or article is basically opening with “A” and closing with “C.” However you decide to get from “A” to “C” is “B.” This formula works with just about any manuscript.
Then, I ruthlessly cut out adverbs and adjectives. These are weak words that we (I) tend to use when we don’t believe our writing is strong enough. We want to make sure the reader “gets it.” The more we eliminate these words, the more we are forced to make the nouns and verbs work harder.
Next, depending on the word length I’m working with, I substitute dialog for narrative. Some narrative is, of course, necessary, but most readers do prefer dialog, and it makes a story come alive.
I also make sure I haven’t said the same thing more than once. This is an easy trap to fall into, at least for me, but once is enough! At this point, I need to put the work aside for a day or more, come back to it with fresh eyes, and once again, make sure I’m not relying on over-explaining instead of using forceful, active words.
Next, I re-work the opening to make sure it’s powerful, attention-getting, and sets up the rest of the story or article. This is where words are crucial. One carefully-chosen word can make all the difference.
Now it’s time for the Final Cut. Once again, I set the story aside for a few days or even a week. (You can see deadlines need to be planned for accordingly, but it’s most important not to skip this last step!) When I come back to my manuscript, I read it with fresh eyes, as someone reading it for the first time. I make sure it holds together and that every word pulls its own weight.
The great Richard Peck once remarked that when we don’t “write tight,” when we over-explain, we are, in fact, “begging” the reader to understand what we are saying. It’s only when we make every single word pull its own weight that we gain the confidence to know the reader will understand. Our writing will be compelling and when it comes to writing, less is definitely more!
This approach works for me, as (among other acceptances) I have just submitted my 20th story to the L.A. Times! Thanks to Sherri for asking me to share these tips with all of you, her readers.
c October 2009 Marjorie Flathers
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Meet Author Nancy I. Sanders!
Meet award winning author (and my dear friend) Nancy I. Sanders! This amazing author of over 75 books is on her Virtual Book Tour and she's stopped at Sherri Tales! Nancy's blog tour is reaching across the country, teaching and inspiring writers all along the way! On October the 3rd Nancy was a featured speaker at the SCBWI Editors Day at the Santa Ana Zoo. Writers were so eager to read about Nancy's successful strategies that ANY writer can use---she sold out of her books! Don't worry, you can get one on amazon.com!
Are you ready for some exciting news? Nancy teaches you how to SIGN A CONTRACT without first writing the book. That's right. That's exactly what many writers do---but Nancy is the FIRST author to write a book about how to do that! Nancy and I signed contracts as coauthors for seven books BEFORE writing them---and YOU can too! Are you excited yet?
After reading this great interview, you'll want to pick up her one-of-a-kind book that even editors are talking about:
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's books,
Get Them Published,
and Build a Successful Writing Career!
by Nancy I. Sanders
Q: Nancy, what kind of encouraging comments or opinions have you received from editors about your thinking outside-of-the-box approach?
A: I’ve learned that there are two main types of editors: 1) Editors who are used to acquiring a completed manuscript and 2) Editors who are used to acquiring proposals and offering a contract before the manuscript is written. Usually, the editors who are used to acquiring a completed manuscript require agented submissions only. Or, they might require a completed picture book manuscript submission but will accept a proposal and offer a contract for a middle grade or young adult novel.
Most of the editors I work with are the ones who acquire proposals and offer contracts to write the book before it is actually written. These editors work in a full range of genre from picture books, to nonfiction books for kids, to middle grade novels, to educational books for teachers. It’s funny, but these editors don’t think my approach is outside-of-the-box. That’s the way they work and they usually work with career writers who are familiar with this procedure. They don’t want to acquire a manuscript that’s already written because they want to give their input from the outline on up to the finished project. They require this input so they want to offer a contract based on an author’s pitch or proposal for the projected manuscript.
I’ve learned to look for publishers who accept queries. If I’m not sure, I’ll query them first to check. If they respond and say that they require the completed manuscript first, I just move on. I keep looking for a publisher until I find one that accepts proposals. I want to earn income while I’m writing so I want to have that contract signed before I start to write. Of course, if I want to spend time writing a completed picture book or middle grade novel for personal fulfillment, then I go ahead and do that. Those are the manuscripts that I send out to the editors who require a completed manuscript up front.
Q: You have a helpful section in your book about writing and time management. What specific advice for writing time management would you give to moms of children still living at home? Many are talented, motivated writers, but find it hard to schedule writing time in their busy and often exhausting day.
A: I started writing when our second son was born, so I have a heart for busy moms with children at home. And yes, I offer a very detailed section on time management in my new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. In this section I tell how writers can start to build their career if they even just have one hour each day that they can sit down and write.
The exciting thing about being a mom with little ones at home is that they are actually in the best position to be a children’s writer! You see, even though technically I’m writing for 6-8 hours a day, I’m not sitting down at the computer for those many hours straight! I’m sitting on the couch reading current picture books for research. I’m washing the dishes while I brainstorm the next scene in my middle grade novel. I’m making a craft for my next nonfiction book for kids.
Moms with kids at home are in a fantastic position to start building a career as a children’s writer. If you’re a mom with your precious little ones in tow, here are some ways you can manage your time:
* Research: Grab the kids and head for your local library. Sit down with your kids and read them every book you can find on the topic you’re writing about. Then grab a huge stack to take home. Be sure to lug home more books than your library card allows ‘cause you’re lucky! You have extra library card carriers standing with you in line! Your kids!! Fill tote bags to overflowing and head back home where you can read, read, read your way through your research books while snuggled up with your toddlers on your couch at home.
* Study your craft: Watch your kid’s favorite videos over and over again sitting next to your children with pen and paper in hand. One time, study plot development. The next time study character development. The next time take notes on story arc, dialog, and setting. Take lots of notes and write down actual samples so you can learn from the pros.
* Lean How to Market Your Books: Take your kids to storytime, children’s shows, or go to school assemblies. Learn how to do school visits and author presentations. When you write a proposal for a new book, tell the editor you’ve got lots of ideas to get out there and help market your book.
* Setting: Go on a hike with your kids and hold brainstorming sessions for the manuscript you’re writing. Practice describing your surroundings together for words and ideas to develop your setting. Ask your kids to use words to describe the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of their world around them. Use these to jumpstart the setting in your manuscript.
* Dialogue: Invite your kids friends over for a play date. Listen in as they play together, eat snacks together, or even squabble together. Write down actual snippets of their dialogue. Your own skills at writing dialog will improve.
* Test your material: Want to give your manuscript a test? Test it out on your kids. Make a craft with them for a children’s magazine to see if it’s age appropriate and interesting enough to hold their attention. Read your story aloud to them and ask what parts they liked the most. Let them vote on three different titles or two different endings to your story.
The key is to develop the heart of a writer. Learn to look at everything through the eyes of a writer. Bond with your children during this precious and fleeting time of life and maximize the opportunity to grow as a writer. And then, during naptime or half an hour before they get up or after they go to bed, grab time at the computer and write that next scene in your manuscript. If you do, you’ll be all ready for tomorrow when you can get new material with your kids for the next part of your manuscript.
Thanks, Nancy! Great information!
Visit Nancy on her blog tour at: www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com
She would love to read your comments!
Monday, October 5, 2009
Nancy Sanders Blog Tour Stopping Here on October 12th!
Meet award winning author (and my dear friend) Nancy I. Sanders! This amazing author of over 75 books is on her Virtual Book Tour, teaching and inspiring writers all along the way! Follow Nancy as she "travels" from blog to blog, answering questions about her newest book---
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published,
and Build a Successful Writing Career.
I've had the privelege of co-authoring seven Scholastic books with Nancy! (I'm sorry, I just can't keep that to myself!) Nancy's book is unlike anything you've ever read on how to get your books published and actually build a writing career.
Nancy stops HERE on her Virtual Blog Tour Monday, October 12th!
Don't miss this exciting and informative interview.
Meanwhile, join Nancy's Virtual Book Tour every day for something new, fun and exciting, from
Monday, October 5th through Friday, October 16th by visiting www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com.
See you back here at Sherri Tales on the 12th for an inspiring interview!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Check It Off! Writing a Magazine Story for Children
Personally, I LOVE writing for children's magazines! It has taught me to write "tight". Kids can't wait for the next issue to arrive in their mailbox, and some children who won't read books WILL read magazines. What an opportunity we have to introduce kids to the world around them, and turn them into readers! If you're just beginning your journey writing for children's magazines, check out htis list of some of the basic elements needed for writing a magazine story.
- MAIN CHARACTER: Will your readers LIKE the main character? Is he or she too “perfect” or did you give your protagonist a “wart” (flaw)? Is your character believable to children?
- THEME: The theme is the main idea or message developed in your story. Is your theme universal and age appropriate? Is your story too preachy? Does the plot (what happens in the story) follow the thread of your theme from beginning to end? Did you avoid going off on “rabbit trails” (another theme or two)? It’s important to stick with only ONE theme all the way through or you will confuse the young reader with mixed messages.
- CONFLICT: Is your character’s conflict, challenge, or dilemma age appropriate? Is it resolved by the protagonist without an adult taking over and "fixing" everything?
- SHOW DON’T TELL: Are you “showing” instead of "telling," through dialog and the actions and reactions of the characters? There are very few illustrations in a magazine story. Your words must create “illustrations” in the readers mind.
- STORY STRUCTURE: Does your story have a clear beginning, middle and end? Do you know the role of each part? Check these out:
few paragraphs to “hook” the reader?
Middle: Does the problem intensify and build in a series of several episodes (usually
three), each one more difficult than the the last?
Ending: Is the problem resolved in a way that will not disappoint the reader? Is the ending satisfying? Has the character grown in some way or had a “come to
- FACT CHECK: Are your facts correct for fiction and non-fiction? Kids are smart! They'll catch wrong information about animals, the environment, and lots more. So will editors!
- FINAL MANUSCRIPT: Did you check the spelling and grammar? Is your story presented in proper manuscript format? Did you follow the magazine publisher’s guidelines and stay within the word count? If they accept simultaneous submissions and you’re sending it to several publishers, did you mention that at the end of your cover letter?
Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Writing Re-told Bible Stories for Kids
I love writing retold Bible stories for young children. The Bible is filled with adventure! Story after story can be re-told with action and dialog, making the Bible come alive for kids. As a Believer, I know the Bible is certainly non-fiction material, and a never-ending source of inspiration for the Christian children’s writer.
Several years ago I wrote a series of three stories for a popular Christian children’s magazine for kids ages 4 to 8. These were stories about the inspiring and in-suppressible Paul...my Bible hero. The first story was titled, Shipwrecked!
Open a Bible and turn to chapters 27 & 28 in the book of Acts. You’ll read about Paul's harrowing adventure. I wanted kids ages 4 to 8 to “experience” just a portion of this story through action and dialog.
The following are short excerpts from Shipwrecked:
CRASH! Paul bolted upright. A monstrous wave had struck the ship! The sky was black and an icy rain pelted the prisoners and guards. Mighty winds tossed the ship from side to side. Wave after giant wave thundered and crashed over the wooden vessel.
"Help us!" the prisoners cried. "We're going to die!"
"I can't control the ship!" the Captain yelled.
"Throw everything overboard!" the guards shouted above the roar of the winds. “We must lighten the load or we'll sink!"
Here's another excerpt:
“Land! I see land!" shouted the Captain. The relieved men cheered and rowed for shore. But no one saw the danger ahead...jagged rocks beneath the dark waters.
SMASH! The ship splintered against the knife-sharp rocks. The waves beat against the broken vessel as the rocks tore it to pieces.
“Jump for your lives and swim for the island!” a guard shouted. “Every man for himself!”
Paul leaped into the water and held onto a piece of broken wood. He kicked his numb feet and headed toward the island along with the others. I know God has a plan, even in this freezing
wa-wa-water he thought.
Before long, Paul felt strong arms pull his weakened body onto the sandy beach. He looked up through salt-stung eyes into the friendly face of an islander.
Non-fiction resources are unlimited! If you haven’t tried writing for this genre you’re missing out on a publishing door that’s still WIDE OPEN for new talent! Go ahead...show children that life can be more exciting than fiction!
c 2008 Sheryl Crawford
Monday, September 21, 2009
Keeping up With Kids...a Necessity!
- Read newspapers and collect clippings of stories about, or that apply to kids. These can be great idea sparkers!
- Read children's magazines. Libraries and bookstores provide a good selection. You'll learn about trends and topics that interest kids today. I subscribe to a magazine that I frequently write for.
- Explore websites geared for children on books, science, nature, etc. Fascinating!
- Talk with teachers and librarians. They know what kids are reading and asking for. Ask a teacher if you can be quiet observer in class.
- Spend time with kids---not just your own or your grandchildren. There are often volunteer opportunities in a community which allow you to work with children. Visit a park, mall, bookstore, zoo, or theme park. Watch kids interact. It's a kick!
- Watch television programs geared for the age you want to write for. You're never too old to watch children's programming like cartoons and Sesame Street. FUN!
- Visit websites created by children's book authors. They seem to be innumerable!
- Read the announcement issues of Publishers Weekly. These special issues come out twice a year. Ask a bookstore employee when they expect to have them. These issues give reviews about upcoming children's books. You'll also read about changes in the publishing industry. Here are more trade magazines recommended for children's book authors:
- Horn Book Magazine [6 issues annually]
- School Library Journal
- Children's Literature Review
- Booklist [22 issues annually]
- Five Owls [a quarterly publication]
- Kidscreen [about reaching kids through entertainment]
- I HIGHLY recommend subscribing to The Children's Writer. It's not an expensive subscription. It will teach you and list publishing opportunities. Join the SCBWI [Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.]
- Read, read, read, and never stop reading CURRENT children's books. Sure, enjoy the classics but be familiar with what's being published NOW.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Poetry That Allows the Blind to “See”
Here’s an amazing fact—this book of poetry continues to be a favorite for those who are BLIND! Mary’s magnificent poems allow the blind to “see” color, and has become a modern children’s classic. She has received hundreds of letters from blind children around the world. Colleges, librarians, grade school and high school teachers continue to use Hailstones and Halibut Bones in their classrooms as an example of poetry perfection.
Do something nice for yourself, pick up the NEWER edition by Doubleday (1989) illustrated by the phenomenal John Walner. His illustrations are lavish and rich—then get ready to experience poetry as you’ve never experienced it before!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Info Galore in the 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market
- Inspirational stories from first time authors about how they landed that first book!
- Quick tips for Writers & Illustrators: This covers topics that are especially helpful to the new writer and illustrator.
- Before Your First Sale: You'll learn about cover letters, queries, proposals, manuscript formats, resumes, submissions, agents & art reps.
- Running Your Business: This section covers contracts & negotiations, payment methods, copyright, great sources for contract help, and more.
- Evolving Children's Book Publishing by Kelly Milner Halls: This article is a must read if you want to stay up to date in today's changing market! Follow her five steps.
This awesome book by Alice Pope does far more than give information on publishing houses---it also inspires, teaches, and helps keep writers up to date in this rapidly changing industry. In my opinion it's a valuable tool for the children's writer. I've already got my 2010 edition and it's right next to my computer. Got yours?
Saturday, August 8, 2009
A Fatal Flaw That Affects Us All
Many times people (usually non-writers who are naive or uninformed) have asked me, “Why don’t you just make a list of all the publishers available and send your manuscripts to every one? A publisher is bound to take it eventually!” This may or may not be true, and with a computer, following such a plan would seem to be a simple and easy thing to do. However, there’s a fatal flaw with this thinking, one that affects all writers.
Besides the high frustration level from all the rejections that will result when writers fail to do basic research on the kind of manuscripts each publishing house is looking for, editors’ are then flooded with submissions. Most of these submissions are inappropriate for their house, thus the dreaded slush pile. Over and over at writers’ conferences, editors speak of the overwhelming number of manuscripts they receive that are nothing like the books on their particular lists.
For example, textbook publishers often receive picture books. Publishers who do specialize in picture books receive YA novels describing teen angst. Even the larger houses who publish many different types of children’s books lean towards certain types of books. This is when an authors computer comes in handy. It’s easy to check publishers’ catalogs and guidelines online and to understand each one’s publishing niche. This is the first step any writer needs to take before he or she even thinks about writing a book or magazine piece.
Perhaps some writers still think that by using the “scatter-shot” method of submitting, their “excellent” manuscripts will so impress editors that they will want to publish something “different,” i.e., that writer’s book. But the truth is that as more and more writers do this, the slush pile grows larger and larger... thus the reason many publishing houses are closing their doors to ALL unsolicited or un-agented manuscripts. This is sad news for everyone.
We owe it to ourselves and to our fellow writers, aspiring and already published writers, to pay attention to the obvious first step and be aware of each publishers specialties.
When we do this, everyone in the publishing industry benefits.
c 2008 Marjorie Flathers
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
A Manuscript Goes Through All of THAT?
TIME LINE - 3 MONTHS: Your Manuscript in the Hands of an Editor
- An Editor reads your manuscript. If it has promise, it's passed to other editors.
- The question is asked: Does the proposal meet our needs?
- An Editor assembles the proposal, sample, and author bio.
- Talks to marketing
- Prepares sales info
- Presents the product to board
TIME LINE - 1 to 2 MONTHS: Contract with the Author
- Set up tentative schedule for production
- Get costs from production. Stateside or overseas?
- Get marketing projections
- Approve the budget
- Send contract to author
TIME LINE - 7 MONTHS: Launch the Product
- Discuss with design the kind of illustrations, format and style
- Discuss with marketing the best approach for marketing with other books in the line.
- THE WORK---Complete the following:
2. Edits (work with author)
5. Register Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data
6. Put in sales catalog
7. Final budget approval
8. Transmit to production
TIME LINE - 5 to 6 months:
- Scan the art and put on disc
- Send all to printer
- Check color proofs
- Print and bind book---preview copy is sent to publisher
- Release book
- Put final marketing plans in place
- Print out material for sales representatives
- Sales conference: Promote next season's products to sales force
Average time line = 18 months. It can take as long as 2 years depending on the publisher. WHEW! What a process. So, if YOUR book has been published, all I can say is
Friday, July 17, 2009
Writing and Carnegie Hall
One of the first books I read on writing for children was Jean Karl's How to Write and Sell Children's Picture Books. One of Jean's quotes from her introduction has stuck with me all these years. I wrote it on a 3 X 5 card as I began my writing journey. It encouraged me to press on, to study hard, and to practice, practice, practice!
It's a quote I occasionally recite when a new writer quickly becomes discouraged because his or her book or magazine story wasn't accepted after having studied and practiced for only a few weeks or months! Here's the quote:
To me, that quote puts the difficult but wonderfully rewarding work of writing for children in perspective. I especially appreciate the last line, "--it is something you can teach yourself, with a few guides along the way---."
So, for those who can't yet "play the violin"--- keep learning and practicing because there is HOPE!
Monday, July 13, 2009
Try Writing for a Children's Writer Contest!
Do you subscribe to the Children's Writer? If so, you may want to enter their Folktale or Fantasy contest. It's FREE for current subscribers. If you don't currently subscribe there is a $13 entry fee which INCLUDES an 8-month subscription! Not bad. Personally think every children's writer needs to subscribe to this up-to-date, informative newsletter. I LOVE this publication!
Here are the contest details:
A folktale, legend, fairy tale, or other fantasy story for early readers ages 7, to 500 words. Stories should be written at the appropriate age level so a child can read them independently. Entries will be judged on creativity, voice, and writing style. Include sources if the story is a retelling.
Entries for this contest (there are two more-see below!) must be received by October 31, 2009. Winners will be announced in the March 2010 issue. Prizes: $500 for first place plus publication in Children’s Writer; $250 for second place; and $100 for third, fourth, and fifth places.
Go to www.childrenswriter.com and click on Writing Contests. There are two more contests left for 2009 you may want to consider
1) An article on a science topic for age 11, to 750 words.
2) Historical fiction for young teens age 13, to 1,500 words.
Don't forget to print out their entry form!
Friday, July 10, 2009
Writing for Children: Is Your Dialogue Counterfeit or the Real Thing?
We have of eight pairs of listening and discerning ears in Wordsmiths. As we read our manuscripts aloud, each God-given and uniquely creative brain processes the information in a different way.
Every member has her own distinct insight on what is read.
They may agree on the overall status of a manuscript, and yet one or two members may add something else to the mix that’s entirely different. I soak in each persons dialogue style as I listen to these writers read their own work. This soaking, learning process has helped me critique my own dialogue for my early chapter book.
After each meeting, I come away having learned something about my dialogue—that little thing that can make or break your book!
Most of us know that people are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by touching the REAL thing hundreds of times. They do not concentrate on the counterfeit. They concentrate on the real thing so many times, it becomes easy to recognize the stuff that’s fake.
To me, writing dialogue is much like that. How do we recognize the real, natural, believable dialogue in our own writing vs dialogue that sounds contrived and fake? By hearing the REAL THING in a great critique group---and by READING the REAL THING in books over and over again. We soak in GOOD dialogue until we're saturated with great examples.
As with counterfeit money, before long you will notice that
unrealistic, unbelievable, "FAKE" dialogue
becomes easier to identify.
If you’re struggling with writing dialogue, try to join or form a great critique group, then dialogue about your dialogue! It will help you learn to identify the real, the believable, and the natural in your own writing.
c 2009, Sheryl Ann Crawford
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Get This One-of-a-Kind Book on Writing for Children!
Nancy is a writing machine and yet her family remains her top priority. She's had over 70 books published and LOVES mentoring writers. I am one of the fortunate eight members in her critique group, Wordsmiths.
Want some GREAT news that will absolutely turn your writing career around? I'm NOT kidding. Her brand new book is hot off the press:
Writer, you have NEVER read a book on building a writing career like this one!
I just couldn't wait to tell you!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Educational Market For Children's Writers!
Evelyn Christensen is the author of over 30 educational puzzle books. What an imagination! From a heart of generosity Evelyn has posted a few of the newest updates for the educational market. Visit her creative website to stay informed and take advantage of publishing opportunities by going to:
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Wanna Stay up to Date on Writing Trends?
Attending critique groups and an occasional conference (expensive!) reading the current market guides and stacks of children's books and magazines is necessary---but you'll need to do more to stay up to date with this changing market.
One of the best ways I know to stay in the loop is to read The Children's Writer, a newsletter of writing and publishing trends. It's a MUST for me. This fabulous publication will tell you what editors want and don't want. You'll get tips on writing style in every area of children's literature. If you want a real challenge, try entering one of their writing contests. It's always fun to read the winning pieces. Who knows---one of those could be yours!
The Children's Writer did NOT ask me to write this. I'm just their number ONE fan. I'm thinking about getting a baseball cap with C.W on the front. Hmmm...on second thought, a book bag would be more my style. Anyway, go to their website. They're offering a FREE trial issue!
Thursday, June 18, 2009
If You Feel Like Reading a Story
KITTEN'S CLIMB is part of a reading comprehension test booklet used in schools across the country. It's published by Harcourt.
Hope you like it (o:
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Story Starters---Part Two
The following is an excerpt (obtained with permission from FabJob) from FabJob Guide to Become a Children’s Book Author, by Jeannie Harmon and Shiela Seifert.
We’re continuing with ways to come up with and keep great ideas for your writing moments! Last time we stopped at idea #4. Let’s keep going!
5. Volunteer to work with kids.
A good way to get to know kids is to work with them. Find areas where you can involve yourself. Call your local elementary school or ask at your church to see if there are areas where you could volunteer. Usually they will be glad to have help, and you will get to talk to kids and learn how they think, talk, and act.
6. Look into your past.
Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. The good news is that you were a kid, and you have almost an endless supply of material at your fingertips. You might think that you can’t remember much, but you would be surprised when you start putting things down on paper.
Start with your first day of school (or your first day of middle school!) or the Thanksgiving that everyone stood up until Grandma, who was always serving others, sat down. Write about your best childhood friend - what you did and where you went. Write about your first piano recital - when halfway through your piano piece your mind went blank, and you forgot the music. The list goes on and on.
Used in many professional settings, brainstorming is the free flow of ideas written down on paper or a white board. Judgment is not passed. No idea is out of line or stupid. By listing everything that you can think of, you will see patterns and solutions that you will be able to use in constructive ways.
One way to do this when you’re by yourself, is to time yourself for fifteen minutes. Once the timer starts, put your pencil on the sheet of paper and begin writing. You can write, “I don’t know what to write,” or “I can’t wait for the timer to end,” if you can’t think of anything to write.
The key is to keep your pencil moving for fifteen minutes without picking it up. Try to concentrate on one story or one topic and then write anything that comes to mind. Write one long paragraph that is devoid of punctuation and grammar rules. When the timer goes off, go back and read the ideas that have appeared on your sheet of paper.
8. Mind mapping.
Mind mapping is a very useful tool. It is a type of brainstorming but with this tool all the events are closely related to one core idea or event.
To do mind mapping, simply write one idea or event in the middle of a white piece of paper. Then explore all the things that come to mind, jotting each thing down in a circular pattern around your core idea. This will enable you to expand your thinking to include other aspects that you haven’t thought about before. Connect each idea to the core thought by drawing a line to the center.
One of the greatest things about being a children’s writer is that it legitimizes being a kid again. No longer are you bound in this adult box called “the serious side of life.” You now have an excuse to free up an afternoon and go to the park. You are doing research.
So sit back, clear your mind, take out your note cards and pencil, and expect to have fun! Writing for kids is an intricate blend of work and play, and there are no corporate directives to follow. You cut your own path.
The above is only a small sample of the valuable information in the FabJob Guide to Become a Children’s Book Author. The complete guide gives detailed information on how you can become a published children’s book author. Visit www.FabJob.com/childauthor.asp for more information.
It’s me, Sheryl (o: I hope you found this information as helpful as I did! Thanks again to Shelley, Manager of Special Projects for FabJob Inc. for allowing me to post this excerpt!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Story Starters: Look, Listen, and Feel—Part 1
Jeannie Harmon was the wonderful editor who worked with me on my first picture book, Psalms for a Child’s Heart. Jeannie is also my dear friend (o:
To link to this GREAT 171 page e-book resource go to: http://www.FabJob.com/childauthor.asp?affiliate=262
Enjoy the excerpt on getting ideas for stories! Here it is:
GET IDEAS DOWN ON PAPER
As adults we often forget the amazing awe of learning something for the first time. We go about our lives in the “fast mode” and often miss the wonder that stops a child in his tracks to watch a caterpillar cross the sidewalk. For a child, everything is a learning experience.
Focus on describing moments at first. The smell of cookies in your grandma’s kitchen is a good example. The better you can learn to clearly describe this moment with as few words as necessary, the faster the child will be able to visualize the scene in his or her mind. As you get better at fleshing out these ideas and thoughts on paper, you will become faster and better able to describe the bigger ideas.
As a writer, we have to learn to see things, in a sense, for the first time - again. Ask yourself:
- What does it look like, sound like, feel like?
- Is it rough, or is it smooth?
- Is it sweet to taste or as sour as lemons?
- Does it sound like a brass band marching past you, or is it the sound of a gentle breeze through the leaves of the tree in your front yard?
All of these things can be described with words, and as the words are spoken, you will stir the imagination of the child listener.
Ideas can be found everywhere. Often we miss those golden opportunities to glean just the idea we need either to get thinking about a story or to describe a scene or character.
So, how do you begin the process of writing a book? Books begin with ideas. How do writers come up with ideas?
- Look and listen
- Write notes
- Cut out stories from the newspaper
- Use their past experiences
- Start with a question
Here are a few ways to come up with and keep great ideas for your writing moments:
1. Carry note cards.
Never underestimate the power of your mind to totally forget a good idea you had ten minutes ago! The best insurance against this malady is to carry 3″ x 5″ cards with you in your purse or pocket. Then when you are waiting for a bus or standing in a grocery store and something catches your attention, you can write down some notes while the mood is fresh. Buy a file box and organize your cards into sections. You might want to use character descriptions, scenes, conversations overheard, story ideas, etc. as divisions in your box.
2. Visit the children’s section of the local library.
The library is a storehouse for source material. Not only do librarians know what kids like to read, but often kids are perusing the shelves themselves. You can observe what types of books they are drawn to. Libraries have a wealth of kid’s books to check out, the latest in children’s magazines so that you can find out what kids are currently interested in, and most have a good selection of videos and games that can be checked out.
3. Watch kids at a playground.
Go to the local park or schoolyard and watch kids interact with each other.
- How do they talk?
- What is the body language they use?
- Do girls play with girls at age 6, or do they play with boys and girls?
- What do they look like?
All of these questions will provide you with valuable information and ideas.
4. Watch children’s programming on TV.
Take an hour or two on Saturday morning or a weekday afternoon to watch children’s programming on TV. We live in an age when things change quickly on screen, and everything is full of color and excitement. This is what you are competing with for your audience. Don’t think that children will settle for a boring story when they can turn on the television. Study the competition.
The above is only a small sample of the valuable information in the FabJob Guide to Become a Children’s Book Author. The complete guide gives detailed information on how you can become a published children’s book author. Visit www.FabJob.com/childauthor.asp for more information.
It’s me, Sheryl. Wasn’t that helpful information? Thanks, Jeannie and Shiela for doing such a great job! Look for Part 2 coming soon!
Friday, May 8, 2009
Four Handy-Dandy Books
These are some of my favorite books I use as a writer.
1) The Random House Rhyming Dictionary (pocket size):
Because I like to write fun poetry for my blog and a particular children’s magazine, this little book comes in mighty handy when I hit a mental road block. Speaking of rhyming, visit www.rhymezone.com Very helpful when you’re looking for that perfect rhyme word.
2) Writing for Children & Teenagers by Lee Wyndham:
I’ve read this book many times yet I continue to turn to my folded pages and highlighted paragraphs. Lee’s book is packed with information on writing for the young child to the teenager. She taught for 13 years at New York University. Boy, I wish I’d been in the front row!
3) The Everything Grammar and Style Book 2nd Edition by Susan Thurman: This book is user friendly which is something I appreciate when it comes to grammar! I should use this book more often. (o;
4) How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood: You’ve GOT to read page 150 (The Ideal Cover Letter). Need I say more?
Monday, April 27, 2009
The Children's Education Market
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Don't Miss This Post: Make Them Believe!
In my opinion, if these comments from children don't inspire you---
perhaps you shouldn't be writing for them.
Make Them Believe:
I was deeply touched recently while reading comments from children about why they love reading. Some comments made me smile. Others brought me to tears. I’ve rephrased what they said. Perhaps their comments will influence your writing. I know it has changed my perspective. Listen to the children you write for:
From an 11 year old: When I read a book all of my troubles leave. I feel as though I’m in the book.
From a 10 year old: When I’m in the story it feels just like I’m the character. It feels like whatever happens to the character is happening to me. It’s like I’m in another world and I never really leave that other world until I finish the book. But even when I’m finished reading the book I’m still there in my mind.
From a 13 year old: Reading helps me escape from a hard day. Reading has helped me to learn right from wrong.
From an 11 year old: Reading is how I escape my life. Without a book I feel lost and empty. If I wasn’t able to read I would be bored and might die. To me reading is a way of survival.
From a 12 year old: Reading does NOT make you nerd or a dork! Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in life. I think the people who make fun of you for reading all the time are the nerds! Reading improves your vocabulary and knowledge.
From an 11 year old: Reading is like going on a vacation. It’s like seeing a movie in your own head and you don’t miss any of the good scenes. When you are sad and lonely and all your friends are gone, a book can be your friend.
From a 12 year old: When I read I can go to the past, present, or future. I feel like I’m exploring and journeying.
From a 14 year old: When I read I feel like I’m traveling to different worlds. I can be somebody else.
From a 12 year old: I can feel the authors words and see pictures in my head. Books are like portals. You can laugh, or be frightened or suddenly be plunged into a dangerous plot. Reading can calm you down when you are mad and when you are sad, reading can soothe you.
From a 13 year old: I feel like I’m really there. If you are lonely, you can read a book about people who are friendly and nice and you feel like they are your friends.
From a 12 year old: Books can help you follow your dreams or even become a hero. There is a whole world waiting to be discovered!
From a 13 year old: I love to read because it helps get me through hard times. When you have a book you will always have a friend.
From a 9 year old: When I read it takes me away from everything that’s going on and brings me to a whole new world.
From a 13 year old: Books can take you all around the world. They can keep you company when you’re lonely. BOOKS MAKE US BELIEVE.
Lots of children need a whole new world for many reasons. Books were referred to as friends, a way to escape troubles, a way to explore, follow their dreams, take a vacation in their mind, even learn right from wrong. To one child, reading was actually referred to as a way of survival! I wonder how many children feel that way.
If you never really thought you could actually change a life with your writing…
THINK AGAIN, WRITER!
Write for the children who NEED books in a way some of us never imagined.
Write and MAKE THEM BELIEVE!
Source: Alan L. Brown’s website at www.alanbrown.com
Monday, April 13, 2009
From Lightning Bugs to Doing the Dishes
Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
I can see you nodding. Read on for more great quotes on writing:
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison
“The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.” Isaac Bashevis Singer
“A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” Oscar Wilde
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Elmore Leonard
“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” Orson Scott Card
“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” Robert Frost
“Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.” Author Unknown
“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” Peter De Vries
“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” English Professor (name unknown) Ohio University
“Language is the dress of thought.” Samuel Johnson
“A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell another one.” Baltasar Gracian
“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” Enrique Jardiel Poncela
“God is the perfect Poet.” Robert Browning
“A man will turn over half a library to make a book.” Samuel Johnson
“A notepad by the bedside accounts for half the earning of my livelihood. If it weren’t for bedtime, half my novels would still be stuck at dock.” Ever Garrison
“There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.” William Makepeace Thackeray
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Thomas Jefferson
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Robert Frost
“Eloquence is the poetry of prose.” William Cullen Bryant (a relative in my family tree!)
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” Agatha Christie
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Great Beginning Lines
1 - “Where’s Pa going with that ax?”
2 - “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”
3 - “All children except one, grow up.”
4- “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
5 - “Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do.”
6 - “Wemberly worried about everything.”
7 - “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most
disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too.”
8 - “Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy.”
9 - “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind…”
10 - “When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a
11 - Today, Monday, Wanda Petronski was not in her seat.”
12 - “Keith, the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered room 215 of
the Mountain View Inn.”
13 - “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.”
14 - “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I
tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I
could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
15 - “The children were having breakfast. This was not a pleasant sight.”
16 - “Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type.”
17 - “I was born in the gutter and grew up in poverty, abandoned by my parents, stealing and begging in order to
18. “In a cave in the woods, in his deep, dark lair, through the long, cold winter sleeps a great brown bear.”
19. “I love being fancy.”
20. “Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was.”
21. “Once there was a baby who wriggled real bad.”
22. “Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!”
23. “How does a dinosaur say good night when Papa comes in to turn off the light?”
24 - “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was
on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
2. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelman
3. Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
5. Ragweed by Avi
6. Wemberly Worried by Kenvin Henkes
7. The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
8. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
9. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
10. Stuart Little by E.B. White
11.The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
12. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
13. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
14. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
15. Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy
16. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
17. Stay! by Lois Lowry
18. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
19. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor
20. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
21. The Wriggly, Wriggly Baby by Jessica Clerk
22. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
23. How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen
24. The Bible:Genesis 1:1 &2 by God
Monday, February 23, 2009
The Rest of the Must-Read List!
In my February 11 post I listed 40 of the 100 best picture books recommended in 2008 by the New York Public Library System. How many have you read? Here are the final 60:
41. John Henry by Julius Lester
42. Julius by Angela Johnson
43. Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
44. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
45. The Line-Up Book by Russo Marisabina
46. The Little Red Hen: An Old Story retold by Margot Zemach
47. Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story From China by Ed Young.
48. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
49. Mabela the Clever by Margaret Read MacDonald
50. Machines At Work by Byron Barton
51. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
52. Maisy Goes Swimming by Lucy Cousins
53. Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
54. Mama Cat Has Three Kittens by Denise Fleming
55. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
56. Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh
57. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia L. Burton
58. Millions Of Cats by Wanda Gag
59. Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall
60. Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Birmingham
61. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale retold by John Steptoe
62. Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming
63. My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann
64. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
65. No, David! by David Shannon
66. Off to School, Baby Duck! by Amy Hest
67. Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth
68. Olivia by Ian Falconer
69. Owen by Kevin Henkes
70. Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me by Eric Carle
71. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale by Maurice Sendak
72. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
73. Puss In Boots by Charles Perrault
74. The Random House Book Of Mother Goose: A Treasury Of 386 Timeless Nursery Rhymes by Arnold Lobel
75. Round Trip by Ann Jonas
76. Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinskey
77. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
78. Spots, Feathers and Curly Tails by Nancy Tafuri
79. The Story Of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
80. The Stray Dog by Simont Marc
81. Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
82. Swimmy by Leo Lionni
83. Sylvester And The Magic Pebble by William Steig
84. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
85. Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
86. Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
87. There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly by Simms Taback
88. The Three Bears by Paul Galdone
89. Trashy Town by Andrea Griffing Zimmerman
90. The True Story Of The Three Little Pigs By A. Wolf by John Scieszka
91. Tuesday by David Wiesner
92. Uptown by Collier Bryan
93. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
94. The Wheels On The Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky
95. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
96. Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
97. Whistle For Willie by Jack Ezra Keats
98. The Wolf's Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza
99. Yoko by Rosemary Wells
100. Zomo The Rabbit: A Trickster Tale From West Africa retold by Gerald McDermott. D
Did you notice the mix of classics and newer books? This complete list should help to give you a well-rounded idea of what children love to read. Happy reading, picture book writers!
Friday, January 30, 2009
A Blog to Help Christian Writers Stay on Target
Sally E. Stuart, author of thirty-six books and more than a thousand articles, has a marketing blog…Christian Writers’ Marketplace. Sally is perhaps best known for compiling the yearly Christian Writers’ Market Guide.
Her blog has daily entries that can assist writers in targeting the right publishers, as well as help them keep the market guide current.
Sally will keep you up to date with current news in the publishing industry…a must as tough economic times dictate what publishing houses can or cannot produce.
Go to: www.stuartmarket.blogspot.com
Friday, January 9, 2009
Visit this FANTASTIC website...OFTEN!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Make Your Story Come ALIVE! Show don't Tell.
I’m going to use an example of how to SHOW instead of TELL. It's from a Christmas story I wrote for a magazine. The following is NOT the way I actually wrote this portion of my story. If I had written it this way, it never would have been published!
This is TELLING:
The innkeeper’s son ran to his father to tell him about the amazing star, but his father was too busy to care. He had an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve. The father told his son to fill a jug of water for the guests, then hurry back. A few minutes later the boy ran back to his father to ask if there were any rooms left. His father told him the inn was full. The boy was worried about the pregnant woman and her husband. He knew they desperately needed a room. Even though the boy pleaded with his father to find room for the couple, his father insisted there was nothing he could do.
BORING! Did it practically put you to sleep? It should have. I merely gave the reader INFORMATION. There was NO ACTION whatsoever. This kind of writing will not pull your readers into your story and get them emotionally involved. Basically, your readers just won’t care.
This is SHOWING:
"A star?" the boy's father said as he lifted a heavy water jug onto his shoulder. "I don't have time to look at a star. We have an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve."
"But, Father, I’ve never seen anything like it! And it's right over our..."
"Son, please! It’s only a star. I've seen thousands.” His father shook is head then thrust a clay jug into the boys arms.
“Stop star gazing and help me. Fill this jug at the well, and hurry. Our guests are waiting."
It wasn’t long before the boy bolted through the doorway, out of breath.
"Father! Are there any rooms left?"
"Son, the inn is bursting at the seams. I gave the last room away hours ago."
"But there's a man and woman who need a room," the boy pleaded. They can't stay on the streets of Bethlehem. Please find them something!"
His father threw his hands in the air. "Hundreds of people need a place to stay. We don't have room for everyone!"
The boy grabbed hold of his father's arm. “Father! She’s going to have a baby---NOW!”
Do you see how I gave the reader the basic information that was in my first example, but in a way that made it come alive through action and dialog? I wanted the reader to feel the tension... to sense the excitement and the urgency the boy felt. SHOWING through dialog and action pulls the reader into your story.
Flip through your favorite books or magazine stories. Notice how the writer uses dialog and ACTION. If you love the writing, it has everything to do with SDT.
Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford